The Farming Fish

Thanks to aquaponics, tilapia feed the hydroponic and in-ground crops at this innovative hillside farm.

Bob Marley’s “Do It Twice” sounds from the alarm, well before the sun peeks its face from behind the mountaintop, even before the rooster has taken his warm wings from his special hens to crow and start the day.

We rise to the occasion, sip our cup, check our lists, and dive into our chores. It starts like this: open up the chicken coops and lay some feed down for the chickens, turn on the drip irrigation, water the seedlings, observe the night bugs, enjoy the sunrise, help Olivia off to the farmer’s market, do some seeding, hold a heavy steel object while Coyote customizes the tractor, stock 700 fry and harvest 1,600 pounds of tilapia…

AQUAPONICS-R-US

Welcome to a not-so-average, organic farm centered on aquaponics. This is a wild and beautiful land with poor soil and steep slopes. Upon moving to our new home more than one neighbor with good intentions warned us that “nothing will grow there, in that red clay.” The property has two primary growing areas. Only one is currently being used as I write this piece; the other is home for some mustangs. The area we first focused on putting into cultivation was the steeper of the two and seemingly the least desirable for farmland. But as I said before, this is not your average farm.

Since aquaponics is the center of our farm plan, we wanted a property with clean water, in abundance, with strong rights to it. We found that here. We also dreamed of a property where one day we could generate our own power via wind, solar and/or hydroelectricity. The land is surrounded by windy peaks, has a southern exposure and pristine mountain stream with lots of drop that falls right through the center of the land.

LIFE BLOOD OF OUR FARM

When most people think of the life cycle of a farm they imagine a plot of dirt, rows being cultivated, fertilizer, tractor, produce and a farmer. Perhaps not readers of The New Pioneer, but the average Joe. Well for us the life cycle starts in the woods, well above the aquaponic system and rows of veggies. Having woods near a farm offers real stability to the land; it helps maintain more consistent temperatures, it cools during the day and helps to hold heat at night.

For this reason and many others we placed our largest greenhouse right next to the forest. It’s in these woods that we retrieve our water, the life blood of our farm. With its microorganisms, it makes our aquaponics system thrive, boosts the microbes in our soil and quenches our plants’ thirst.

These woods are also home to beneficial insects, birds and other flora and fauna that collectively serve important ecological niches. At times we harvest small amounts of fluff from the forest floor to aid capillary action or add humus to our gardens. The woods are also our wild harvest area. While much of this bounty stays on our dinner table, we sell some at our local farmer’s markets: wildflowers, mushrooms, blackberries, miner’s lettuce, wild mint, lamb’s quarters, chamomile, lemon balm and more.

IRRIGATION SYSTEM

In the stream we have a simple dam of sticks and mud. Just before this dam is a gas powered trash pump with a (tiny by agricultural standards) 1-inch poly pipe. It is the backbone of all our water needs. We put a cap full of gasoline in the motor to prime the pump and line. We run the irrigation system one zone at a time with pressure from gravity and the water stored behind the dam. We use this water to fill the aquaponics system when needed as well.

Most water-wise irrigation systems are more economical to install than larger ones. Ours is made up of micro-sprinklers and drip heads. The micro-sprinklers are installed over all of the raised beds or high-layered rows and the drip heads are placed in the garden areas we refer to as the viney patches. That’s where we grow pumpkins, melons, squash.

We copied the ancient agriculture practices of the Maya people, using permanent raised beds that we layer with mulch and compost, practicing terracing, managing fallows, forest gardens and harvesting from the wild. We keep and maintain deep furrows around all our growing beds; this helps us to channel and capture water.

To learn more about what we are doing, visit our Facebook page and our website: thefarmingfish.com. For sustainable agricultural services and aquaponic design and consulting for your own system, please contact ameliorationinc.com.